Today we sit down with author and blogger, Mary Smith. She is going to tell us about her latest work, her inspiration, and a bit about herself. Please enjoy.
DM: What is the title and genre of the book you want to tell us about?
MS: No More Mulberries is contemporary women’s fiction – though men read and enjoy it, too.
DM: Can you summarize your book in one sentence?
MS: That’s tough to do but here goes. British-born Miriam loves her work in Afghanistan but, concerned about how her Afghan husband Dr Iqbal is changing towards her, she wonders if their marriage can survive.
DM: Who is your intended audience and why should they read your book?
MS: Anyone who is interested in learning about a different culture while enjoying a really good, emotional story at the same time.
Why should they read it? I think I’ll let one of my reviewers answer that question:
“This novel is chock full of Afghanistan culture and is an absolutely brilliant read. It really is hard to believe this is a debut novel. Educational as well as entertaining from a fictional point of view, Mary Smith shares her unique perspective on the politics, culture and people of Afghanistan brought about by her years working in the area. The sights and sounds of the country come alive in this tale and I was engrossed from the start. This is a book which makes you think and also, if you look deeper, gives you answers to questions we ask when faced with a culture which is so different to our own. Mary Smith brought the country of Afghanistan alive for me in a way no news article could ever do.”
DM: How did you come up with the title?
MS: Mulberries were my favorite fruit when I was in Afghanistan so I decided it should be the favorite of Miriam, the central character and then it sort of became a motif and, if she has to leave, there really wouldn’t be any more mulberries.
DM: Tell me about your cover art. Who designed it? Why did you go with that particular image?
MS: It was designed by a graphic artist and web designer called Alan Scott. I liked that it shows the kind of place Miriam lives and the woman could be British or could be Afghan. I am thinking, though, it might be time to update it.
DM: What are your biggest writing influences (another author, another book, a movie, etc.)
MS: The person who made me want to write many, many years ago was Enid Blyton. I so loved her adventure stories I wanted to (and did) write them myself.
I read quite a lot of books set in Pakistan and Afghanistan: A Bed of Red Roses by Nelefer Pazira is an all-time favourite and I love all Kamila Shamsie’s novels, especially the early ones set in Karachi and Nadeem Aslam whose novel Maps for Lost Lovers is about the Pakistani community in England and which left me breathless with admiration.
DM: Who is your favorite character from your book and why?
MS: I think Miriam’s friend Chaman. She doesn’t feature a lot in the book but she is a good sounding board for Miriam and she shows that not all Afghan wives are downtrodden. She’s had her fair share of problems with her husband but I think it’s clear who has the upper hand.
DM: How about your least favorite character? What makes them less appealing to you?
MS: Least favorite has got to be Dr Jeannine who behaves in such a high-handed way, the worst example of how some foreigners behave in Afghanistan (and other developing countries).
DM: If you could change ONE thing about your novel, what would it be? Why?
MS: I would make it a bit longer. I don’t want to say anything here that might be a spoiler but a few reviewers have mentioned they feel the ending comes a bit too suddenly.
DM: Can you give us a fun fact or a few about your book?
MS: I ate an awful lot of mulberries! There is a scene in which Miriam tries to persuade two couples to go into two different rooms to provide a sperm sample and discovers to her horror she has mixed them up so is pairing up unmarried couples. That scene is based on something which really happened. I still blush when I think of it!
DM: What other books are similar to your own? What makes them alike?
MS: I think if people enjoyed The Kite Runner or A Thousand Splendid Suns and other books based in Afghanistan such as The Bookseller of Kabul they will enjoy No More Mulberries. However, rather than claim No More Mulberries is like them I’d rather mention the differences. I focus less on the horrific aspects of how women are treated and show, I hope, that this is not the whole story: that the women of Afghanistan are not all down-trodden victims, that all Afghan men are not brutal husbands and there is often much joy in life despite the undoubted hardships.
DM: How can we find out more about you and your books?
DM: What can we expect from you in the future?
MS: I’ve started a follow up to No More Mulberries. Lots of people have asked what happens to Miriam and Iqbal so I decided to continue their story but other characters have popped up and I need to decide if it’s their story or Miriam’s which needs to be told. Before that, though, I hope to publish a book based on my blog about caring for my dad – My Dad’s a Goldfish.
DM: What can readers who enjoy your book do to help make it successful?
MS: Tell others about it either by word of mouth and/or by putting a review on Amazon.
DM: Do you have any advice for other writers trying to get published?
MS: Learn as much as you can about the world of indie publishing and go for it. Don’t be sucked in by people who promise all kinds of publishing success but want your cash. Check out sites like eNovelAuthorsatWork (http://enovelauthorsatwork.com) and read the blogs and check out the resources – it has invaluable advice.
DM: Can you give us an excerpt from your book?
MS: Okay – this is a short excerpt from Chapter 10
‘Miriam-jan, it’s good to see you. Usma sends many salaams. She wanted to come but…’
Interrupting him she said, ‘I’ll send someone to sort out space for the patients in the tent. I’m sorry the accommodation isn’t up to much. They didn’t expect so many patients. They had to find an extra tent. Still, it won’t be for long. I’m sure your group will get appointments tomorrow and then you can…’ She broke off when Ismail caught her hands in his, turning her round to face him. She sighed.
‘Let’s start again, Miriam-jan. I ask how you are and you ask how I am, then I ask about your house and you ask about mine. We’ll hope that neither of us will ever be tired and by then it’ll be easier to talk about other things.’ He released her hands saying, ‘In fact I believe I can see the edges of a smile at last. Now, tell me where is Farid? And don’t you have a daughter now?’
Miriam explained about Farid’s visit to his grandparents and by the time she was telling Ismail about Ruckshana she felt herself begin to relax. Now she could ask him about his family, trying to imagine his sons being old enough to work on the land, how grown up his daughter must be. ‘Oh, it would be wonderful to see everyone again,’ she cried.
‘You can. I meant what I said. I’ve come to take you home.’ Miriam shook her head, but Ismail continued, ‘I’ll find a good horse for you – it’s only one day’s ride to Zardgul.’
‘Ismail, we’re so busy here. You’ve seen the patients, we see hundreds every a day. I can’t…’
‘If Jeanine was willing to let you go for a few days?’
She shook her head. ‘Look, Ismail going to Zardgul is impossible. Let’s drop the subject.’
‘No, Miriam, I can’t. Look,’ he produced from a scruffy envelope a sheet of paper so flimsy from the many times it had been unfolded it was falling apart. ‘The letter you wrote from Pakistan. You promised to come back to Zardgul – if not to live and work, at least to visit us, to hear what happened to Jawad, where…’
‘Things are different now, Ismail.’
‘You mean Dr Iqbal will not bring you to Zardgul.’ It was a statement, not a question. Miriam didn’t reply. ‘Please don’t say no without taking time to think about this chance. It may never come again.’ He looked pleadingly at her. ‘Miriam-jan, there is such sadness in your eyes. You need to come back – not just to keep a promise made to us but one I am sure you made to yourself – and Jawad.’
Miriam looked away, staring unseeingly through the window. Finally, she turned to Ismail standing silently beside her. ‘I have to go now. Eva needs me in the clinic.’ Seeing him about to say something more she whispered, as much to herself as to him, ‘I will think about it.’
About Mary Smith:
Author and journalist Mary Smith lives in South West Scotland. Although she has always written, whether childish short stories, very bad angst-ridden poetry as a teenager, or journals she never really believed she could be an author. And so she did lots of other things instead: fundraising for Oxfam and later working in Pakistan and Afghanistan for health programs. Those experiences inform much of her writing. Her debut novel, No More Mulberries is set in Afghanistan.
Back in Scotland she found work as a freelance journalist while completing a MLitt in Creative Writing. She still wants to travel more but is having to keep her itchy feet still until her son gets through his medical degree.
She has also written Drunk Chickens and Burnt Macaroni: Real Stories of Afghan Women, a narrative non-fiction account about her time in Afghanistan which offers an authentic insight into how ordinary Afghan women and their families live their lives. Her poetry has appeared in many publications and she has one full-length collection, Thousands Pass Here Every Day. Her most recent publication – something totally different – is Dumfries Through Time a local history book done in collaboration with photographer Allan Devlin. The pair are not working on a new title to be published in 2017.
Mary’s other project is to turn her blog, My Dad’s A Goldfish, about caring for her father when he had dementia into a book, which she hopes will be published before the end of 2016.